Dear Members of the New South Wales Parliament

For over two decades, I’ve been a vocal advocate to end so-called conversion “therapy” and actively supported and worked alongside over 4,000 survivors.

My journey as a survivor began in 1972 when, unbeknownst to me, I became one of the initial individuals worldwide subjected to what would later be termed “ex-gay”, reparative or conversion “therapy.” In Sydney’s south, I admitted  myself into a church residential program. I underwent public shaming, endured exorcisms, and was coerced into conforming to societal expectations of traditional masculinity, all to alter my sexual orientation and make me “acceptable” to the church and society as a heterosexual.

The next year, in 1973, the mental health professional community in Australia and the United States recognised the flaws in pathologizing homosexuality and that their theories of the causes of homosexuality (e.g. distant father, dominant mother, sexual abuse, etc.) were false. Homosexuality was removed from their lists of mental disorders.

Despite this progress, the “gay conversion” or “pray the gay away” movement grew and went through several re-brandings, spawning hundreds of organizations globally. For four decades, under each of the reinventions the message remained the same (you can’t be lesbian, gay, bi or transgender) , and falsely claimed to offer healing and transformation. The resulting devastation in individuals’ lives is well-documented.

I eventually married, had children, and became a well-known Pentecostal preacher in Australia’s megachurches. However, my sexual orientation remained unchanged. The anguish over my internal conflict often led me to dark places and consider ending my life.

I resigned from the ministry in 1991 and came out. Coming out doesn’t automatically erase the years of shame and internalised homophobia. The years of self-hatred and self-loathing continued to affect me behaviourally and psychologically.

After several years, I felt it was important to share my story. When my autobiography came out in 2004, not only did it become a bestseller but, more importantly, it became a catalyst for others to open up about their experiences. My inbox became a portal into a previously hidden world, where people, for the first time, found someone who could truly relate to their struggles. Most emails began with the words “Your Story is my story”.

The narratives shared with me had common threads: individuals were told they were abominable, broken, unnatural, abnormal, against God’s order and sought solutions through prayer, counselling, and even exorcisms. Yet, change remained elusive, resulting in deep mental health issues, anxiety, depression, and, often, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thoughts of suicide and attempts were mentioned regularly.

Despite the passage of two decades, I continue to receive messages from those who have undergone LGBTQ conversion practices, underscoring the lasting impact of these harmful experiences and that it is an ongoing issue.

One of those was Matt. After telling me about the positive, actually life-changing, impact my autobiography had on him, he wrote, “I made a lot of friends in my years of conversion therapy. Out of forty, only six are still alive (one died naturally, the rest suicide.)”

We will never actually know the toll of lives lost because of the lie “your sexuality or gender identity is unacceptable and needs fixing”.

The toll of unnecessary suffering could have been mitigated with legislative protection for vulnerable LGBTQ individuals.

New South Wales should be a haven where LGBTQ people can freely be themselves. Legislation is imperative to safeguard them from well-intentioned yet harmful practices, ensuring that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer is not deemed something that should be changed or suppressed.

Now is the time.

To ensure that LGBTQ lives are not destroyed or lost, I encourage you to wholeheartedly support the bill tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely

Anthony Venn-Brown OAM (he/him)

Founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI)

Author of the bestseller ‘A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith’ Voted one of the 25 Most Influential Gay & Lesbian Australians (2007 & 2009), recipient of the 2015 ACON’s Health and Wellbeing Award and awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the LGBTIQ community (2020).

IMPORTANT NOTE

It’s not over. The bill has only been introduced. It’s not law yet. It will have to be debated and there is the possibility that it could get watered down. The NSW Premier, Chris Minns, said I’d like to have the law passed in the next two weeks.

We need to have our voices heard and call on all NSW MPs to wholeheartedly support the legislation. You can do that either by calling their office or emailing them. Full list HERE.

Remember that our organisation, Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International (ABBI), can only continue our important work through the support of people like yourself. You can make a one off donation or join the #ABBIfamily and become a regular contributor HERE.